Boss or Leader

Over the years I have been fascinated by the different terms that were used to describe 'people who have responsibility over (large) groups of other people'; in the sixties and seventies they were called Bosses, during my MBA studies in the eighties we called them 'Managers' and later the term 'Leaders' came into fashion; these days we start to talk about 'Guides' and 'Coaches' and no doubt in the next years and decades ahead of us we will find other suitable descriptions again.

Much more interesting is the question of how we can distinguish 'effective' and 'inspiring' humans who lead people compared to others, no matter how we call them. Effectiveness could be measured by value creation and profitability of a company.

During my career of more than 25 years, I worked in a number of different countries, The Netherlands, Botswana, Ghana, Rwanda and Slovakia and experienced many different superiors and peers. I started to keep record of what I called 'boss' behavior and 'leader' behavior. Pepper most likely would call it 20th century leadership behavior and 21st century leadership behavior!

Often I am asked how different it must have been to work in these very distinct environments and cultures but what surprised me more is that some types of behaviors are appreciated everywhere the same and naturally also judged similarly.

Behaving in a respectful, humble and polite way is appreciated everywhere in the world. And although I experienced many interesting differences in culture, habits and values, in most cases the same type of behavior was liked or disliked regardless the culture. I collected a number of practical differences between boss behavior and leader behavior as I experienced them on my journey in my career while working with different superiors. I would like to share them with you. Hopefully you will recognize some of them. It is my own belief and experience that the 'leaders' behavior will lead to higher effectiveness and performance than the 'boss' one and I take full responsibility of that judgment; however, it also puts me in a dilemma: some famous leaders of highly successful companies showed and still show strong features of the 20th century 'boss' behaviors. Sometimes bossy behavior is highly effective too, even today. So I am sure the discussions around this topic will continue for many years to come!

Here are my top 10 observations on different types of behavior.

For convenience sake I refer to Bosses and Leaders with 'he', but of course all is applicable to females as well.

1. The boss depends on authority and inspires fear; the leader depends on goodwill and inspires enthusiasm
A boss is very much depending on authority to execute his job. This was and still is characterized by the following features: the size of his office, the way he is dressed, his chair in the meeting and the way he behaves to his subordinates pretending to know everything better than anyone else. Subordinates have to work with him because he is the boss.

A leader depends on goodwill; his subordinates like to work with him because he is great and fun to be with, he has created an atmosphere of goodwill and positive energy around him where people want to exceed in what is expected from them.

Many bosses impose fear into their subordinates which is the main drive to get things done. 'If I don't do it, the boss will get mad at me so I better go and do it' is a rather common way to drive people to get things done; the appraisal process was done to inspire fear into people, it was a nervous time during appraisal period as the boss would decide and determine your fate and future!

The leader inspires enthusiasm among his colleagues and makes them happy to get things done and praises them for it. Appraisal time is something to look forward to as you will have the chance to have a constructive conversation and dialogue with your leader about what went well and what could be done differently to increase effectiveness. It creates a total different energy in an organization I have experienced.

2. The boss says 'I' the leader says 'We'
Typical of the boss is to talk about himself, his own successes, 'I' have achieved the results, 'I' have acquired that company, 'I' have grown the EBIT with x%, 'I' have reorganized the company successfully, etc.
On the other hand, the leader will seldom talk about I but rather 'We': we have made this great success, we have been able to outperform in the market, we have invested in our talents and we have been able to grow them into the new generation leaders, we are proud of what has been achieved.

3. The boss never has enough time, the leader makes time for things that count
Do you recognize this phenomenon? I experienced some stunning examples of this in my career. One of my bosses who never had time for me, always made me feel other things were more important than my issues, often Board meetings and bilaterals were cancelled because other more urgent matters had priority. I remember all too well how miserable I felt when this happened; it made me feel useless and of no importance. A leader will always find time for things that matter and are important. He plans his meetings and bilateral meetings with his team members well in advance and ensures he sticks to his appointments. A leader will always try to accommodate time to things that count. And these things can be seen as small but very important for the employee and the leader has empathy for that.

4. The boss sees today, cares about short term results and bonuses; the leader also looks at tomorrow and cares about his people
Bosses in general have a short term approach and try to solve the daily issues as they come; the leaders have a more long term vision and want to see how they can create value for the company in the next 5 years. The risk of 'ad hoc cracy' is that the direction and alignment of the company is often unclear and confusing and can change regularly as new opportunities arise. This can create uncertainty on what to do next among the employees, whereas the leader will follow his given direction, align his people to the common goals and stick to the defined deliverables. I come back to the 'people matter', everything we want to achieve in life is still a matter of people doing the right job with the right intention and right direction.

We have learnt some very dear lessons in the beginning of this century how short term thinking and 'casino' bonus systems can destabilize the whole economic system. And we are still far from stable and sustainable growth.
In my view in companies where there are leaders who acknowledge that their people matter and take care about their employees in a respectful way will eventually be the winners in the future. There are only so many “Steve Jobs” type of people we can handle in the world…

5. The boss drives people; the leader coaches them
Bosses tend to be directive in guiding their subordinates, they drive the people into certain behavior without necessarily telling 'why' it should be done; leaders however coach their people to guide them to their own insight and understanding of why things need to be done. I was often criticized in Ghana by my Boss who felt I was far too patient with my team and was 'wasting' too much time in coaching them and explaining why certain activities should be carried out; eventually, after investing time in my team to create an understanding of 'why' and a conviction of 'I want' I could accelerate so many things and the speed of action was measurably higher than before. Only because people understood the reason why they were asked to do things they were more engaged to do their tasks and were proud of the results.

6. The boss says 'get there on time', the leader gets there ahead of time
This behavior I have experienced many times in my career, the Boss told us to have things done in time, pretending he was personally exempted from all deadlines, so he could come late to meetings, he could disrespect deadlines and could get away by simply not even turning up at appointments.

A leader will have his deadlines met before the others, he will be ahead of time for meetings because he understands that this is a sign of respect to others and you consider the meeting to be important.
I need to make a cultural exception here; in Ghana it was very well accepted when the boss would appear 1 hour late in a meeting!

7. The boss uses people, the leader develops them
Have you ever felt used by your boss to do something he later took credit for? I had it a number of times and the experience was awful; I felt used for my skills but not recognized or rewarded in any way; leaders will try to develop their teams, make them stronger in their skills and competencies and will recognize and reward them for that. I have seen some great examples of how people were growing in their positions as their leader invested lots of energy and resources to develop his people.

8. The boss is concerned with things and commands; the leader is concerned with people and asks
It struck me that bosses are task oriented, they want to have the job done, no matter what and no matter how. Bosses work hard to produce. Leaders are concerned with people who have to do the task; they are concerned if they have the right competencies and resources to get the job done and a leader will first manage the people than manage the task. Leaders work hard to help people produce.

In any given leadership workshop I have attended, the first topic is about Listen first, probe questions, talk later. Why do we have so many difficulties with that listening? Do we want to show off with our knowledge and show much we know and how certain we are we have all the solutions? Bosses in general are bad listeners, they know and they command. Leaders keep asking questions, will tell you sometimes they don't know themselves but by listening well to others he will find the answers. It is a difficult art to really listen and not confuse this with 'waiting for somebody to finish talking and give the answer'!

9. The boss is focusing on not losing, the leader is focused on winning
Striking different behavior of the boss is to focus and avoid losing which is often giving negative energy, 'the competition will come with someone we cannot do', 'our products are inferior to others in the market', ' I don't have the right people in the organization, I cannot trust them'.

The leader's focus is much more in the winning direction, 'we will make sure we have the right people on the bus', 'we have trust in our people to get the best possible results and products on the market', 'we ensure our products are desired by the consumers because we understand what they like'. This brings positive energy and a sense of winning in an organization and the winning becomes almost a self fulfilling prophecy!

10.The boss takes the credit, the leader gives it
This behavior is a well known phenomenon and Pepper would certainly classify this under 'human element of leadership'! It is almost classical to see how the boss is eager to take credit for all achievements made and how reluctant he is to take 'debit' when things don't go so well. He may want to add in his speech that all would not have been possible without his colleagues and that the people are the most important assets for the company but that often sounds not very convincing and credible when the behavior points in the opposite direction.

The leader will instead give genuine credits to his team for achievements and results, he will give examples of excellent performance and will recognize his people and will not shy away to take debit for the problems.
As he acts humble and vulnerable, in return his people will give him the credit.